Review: Renovate or Die

April 18th, 2011

If the title Renovate or Die sounds urgent—and maybe even a little confrontational—that’s because the situation, according to author Bob Farr, is desperate. In Renovate or Die: Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission, he says that churches who do not adapt to the current ministry context will die, and sooner rather than later. Those who do change, however, will be both relevant to the culture and faithful to their calling.

From the outset, Farr assumes that God is calling the church to reach the unchurched, regardless of what it may cost those already on the inside. But most churches are poorly positioned to fulfill this calling. When they do try to engage their local contexts in ministry, they often stop short of true renovation. But new carpets or paint amounts to little more than remodeling. If churches are to truly renovate, some metaphorical demolition and new construction is inevitable.

In his career as a pastor, Farr has encountered significant opposition to change, and he does not deny the likelihood of such opposition rising up against efforts at renovation in the reader’s church. So he calls upon pastors to be the key leaders of change. This first of Farr’s ten suggestions puts the onus squarely on the shoulders of the clergy, calling them to move beyond the temptation to placate the noisiest in their congregations and instead lead with boldness and vision.

Once committed, the pastor can then lead the congregation through the processes necessary for renovation. Some, like understanding your context and getting the basics right, echo the themes of well known pastors and authors such as Robert Schnase and Adam Hamilton. Others, such as staffing for leadership and creating momentum, draw from leadership gurus like Bill Hybels and Jim Collins. While none of the ten ideas for renovation are particularly new, Farr presents them with a clarity and conviction meant to inspire his readers not just to agree with his principles, but to act upon them.

The second section of Renovate or Die deals with broader church organization (primarily in Farr's own denomination, the United Methodist Church, but principles could be applied to any large network of congregations). This section begins with an essay by Schnase that cites several success stories of congregations in his annual conference that have reversed the trend of declining numbers, finances, and facilities. These provide the building blocks through which the larger connectional ministries of the United Methodist Church can be strengthened. Farr builds on Schnase’s ideas to suggest how judicatory leaders could guide the renovation of larger church structures, which can in turn help create a healthy environment for congregational renovation.

Renovate or Die will appeal to churches and church leaders who sense the need for change, but need some direction on how to go about it. It may serve as a companion to Schnase’s popular The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, which Farr cites as foundational to his work. The heavy influence of corporate leadership and large church pastors on the book may not speak quite so well to small churches, but makes this book a worthwhile resource for large church leadership or those involved in church planting.

Bob Farr is Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Annual Conference. He has been a local church pastor, church planter, and a specialist in congregational change.

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